The Case For An Internet Bill Of Rights

BAILEY T. STEEN | TUESDAY, APRIL 3, 2018

WE THE PEOPLE of the information age, in order to form a more perfect internet, to ensure the practice of network justice, and to secure the blessings of online liberty for ourselves, should look to the potential establishment of an internet bill of rights.

Ever since the FCC’s (3-2) repeal of Title II, better known as the Obama-era rules of net neutrality which forbid telecom giants from playing favourites with who is granted an internet fast lane, there’s a growing public support for holding big-tech accountable. It’s rare for the rabid left, the conspiracy right and moderates to intersect on a bipartisan solution, particularly when it comes to political policy, but leave it to Silicon Valley’s ethical bankruptcy to force their hand in believing there’s a role for government in protecting our fundamental rights online.

According to last month’s Axios-SurveyMonkey poll, over 55% of Americans believe Washington does “not go far enough” in the oversight policy of big-tech companies, who they say harm both free speech and the practice of liberal democracy more than help, gaining a 45% majority of Republicans in support of regulatory policy that grant consumer protections to the American people.

Such demands have little traction on Capitol Hill, of course — as to be expected of a political system that Princeton University studies found to function like an oligarchy, but the novel concept still makes its way up the policy tree every few months.

Last year, the idea resurfaced in the form of an internet bill of rights platform proposed by the tech-savvy member of the Justice Democrats movement, Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA). The policy outlines specific programs and rights supported by the majority of American voters — including data privacy regularly infringed upon by the all-seeing National Security Agency (NSA), universal access to broadband and equal protection for internet functionality.

“The reality is that our laws have lagged far behind our technological capabilities,” Rep. Khanna argued in his online petition, “resulting in widespread encroachment on our civil liberties… Congress has been asleep at the switch while the federal government has expanded the security state and private companies have run amok in storing and selling our data.”

“With the troubling revelations that the executive branch has been collecting warrantless metadata on American citizens,” he continued, “there has been growing bipartisan support for legislation to strengthen civil liberties.”

Rep. Khanna, representing California’s 17th district of South San Francisco Bay, quite literally the heart of the Silicon Valley and their elitists’ wild wild land of tech, doesn’t stand alone.

Repealing net neutrality forced even the most amoral of tech companies AT&T to show they have a soul — despite their proven lobbying in favour of scrapping Obama-era online protections. Regardless of the motivation behind their sudden for-the-people rhetoric, the public pressure for online policy saw the telecom giant’s CEO, Mr. Randall Stephenson, release full page advertisements across countless newspapers calling on Congress to fix online traffic discrimination and to champion a concrete “Internet Bill of Rights”.

Stephenson’s advertisement reads:

“Congressional action is needed to establish an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination, and privacy protection for all internet users.

[This] legislation would not only ensure consumers’ rights are protected,” the man continued, “but it would provide consistent rules of the road for all internet companies across all websites… the commitment of one company is not enough.”

It pains me to say Stephenson, a man with a net worth of $28.4 million involved in an institution who perpetuated online insecurity, actually has a point. The commitment of one company, be it YouTube with their flawed flagging programs, Facebook in their scandal-ridden data collections, Twitter in their persistent removal of problematic accounts, any internet service provider with enough money to buy Washington — all benefitting from these infringements, is not enough to ensure a clean practice of justice and liberty.

Members of Congress, particularly those who subscribe to ever changing RussiaGate narratives, can’t cry about those oh-so-evil indicted hackers of the Mueller investigation, who somehow threaten Democracy with expensive memes, while remaining silent on the importance of the internet as a public utility. They can’t scream about Wikileaks being a threat when they publish the DNC-Podesta emails, “fake news” that truly exposed former candidate Hillary Clinton’s speeches to wall street and plans to rig the primary election, while they once praised online leaks as vital journalism. Such was the case when Wikileaks published the classified Manning footage of the Bush administration bombing Reuters reporters and first responders during the Iraq war — where the only person who went to jail was the messenger, former Private Chelsea Manning, and not the war criminals themselves. Washington and the media can’t support the growing #DeleteFacebook campaign, after it was revealed the social media site collected the data of over 50 million users and gave it to the Trump-linked Cambridge Analytica firm, and ignore calls to protect online civil liberties from those same giants. If anything, these growing political-tech scandals, being cashed in on by the mainstream and establishment politicians for quick gains, can’t possibly be separated from the wider issue of the untouched techo-corporatist status quot being exposed daily — and it may be their worst nightmare.

We can hope Facebook and company get their act together, waiting naively like beaten housewives wishing our spouses’ abusive behaviour will suddenly disappear through self-regulation. We can wait for better companies to take on monopoly forces like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, showing up like the free market superhero to save the day in the end. Or, as The Nation points out, we could abandon the social-media ship and lose all the gains we’ve made in communication by living hermit lives. All of which are untenable solutions offer no solution to tech’s new aristocracy — giving Zuckerberg, Sandberg, Dorsey, Cook, Bezos, Pichai, Wojcicki and all the players the land of cyberspace, containing untold riches, capital and governed populations, with no constitution to curb their power.

What responsibility is there to uphold freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom from unwarranted search and seizures of property and freedom of speech when that centralised power is a click away? There simply isn’t one when they’ve just rigged the social contract in their favour — and the populace are seeing the need for a new political revolution, realigning the internet as communication platforms of public use, necessary for a free press and free republic, that are more than just a few bits of wire and electronic letter writing tools.

Citizens from the east to west should demand their money goes towards protecting their rights domestically, aboard and the ever expanding virtual world where rights should still apply. It’s not radical to expect that a free internet upholds up to its name and purpose — it’s just common sense.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey T. Steen is a journalist, editor, artist and film critic based in Victoria, Australia, but is also Putin’s Puppet on occasion.

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